I can predict with a high degree of confidence that there will be a number of natural disasters, armed conflicts, horrible crimes, celebrity misadventures, political scandals, and serious financial problems somewhere in the world in the year ahead. We only need to look at the past to accurately predict much of what will happen in the future.
Our problem is that we seldom know the important details about events to come. A few years ago, my son was convinced I should be buying oil on the commodity markets because its price could only go up. He had a point, assuming I could afford to buy oil futures; but he found out to his chagrin that the price he was prepared for me to pay became far higher than the value of the commodity within a short period of time. I should add that I have never purchased commodity futures and would not even know where to begin. If I were to start speculating, I would advise others to sell when I buy and buy when I sell.
We face a similar problem in predicting what will happen with the local economy and how its condition will affect city revenue. Our largest sources of income are property tax and utility bill payments that most people reliably pay every year. We have seen no evidence of a declining payment rate for property taxes this year, but we have seen reduced water usage which translates into lower utility bill payments. Lower levels of construction activity have dramatically reduced the rate of increase in property tax revenue as well. As long as our revenue or income sources remain flat or decline, we will obviously have a problem coping with increased expenses. Recognizing that asking people to pay more when many have lower incomes is unfair and unsustainable, the City will continue to cut expenses. The nature and severity of cutting costs will be determined through the budget process and, ultimately, will be decided by the City Council.
Just as we know bad things will happen in the world and in Albany in 2011, we know good things will happen, too. We will read about scientific discoveries, medical miracles, economic success, heroism, and achievement, to name a few. We have reason to believe new businesses will open here, and we know there will be physical improvements in the community, as projects like Talking Water Gardens and the East Thornton Lake Natural Area progress.
The most important good things about 2011, from a city manager’s point of view, are probably things most people won’t really notice. I predict city employees will continue to deliver high quality services with integrity and competence. Police and fire fighters will show up in emergencies and do their jobs well; library workers will make their facilities warm and welcoming places; public works employees will keep water and sewer systems working properly while maintaining streets; parks & recreation workers will run programs and keep parks attractive; the finance and human resource departments will provide essential support to people throughout the organization. Important services such as transit, building inspection, planning, fire prevention, the airport, and municipal court will continue to help make Albany a good place to live and do business.
Spectacular or unusual events may dominate the news, but I think the most important concern for most of us is the safety and happiness of our families and friends. The cheerful barista at the coffee shop, the soldier in Afghanistan, or the city attorney out searching for the neighbor’s lost dog give me reasons to be optimistic about 2011. As we close one year and begin another, I would like to thank everyone who contributes to making the world a little better than it was in 2010.